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The Boston Globe – “Defense depicts less-radical Mehanna,” by Milton Valencia

Defense depicts less-radical Mehanna

In posts, opposed targeting civilians

By Milton J. Valencia |  GLOBE STAFF     DECEMBER 08, 2011

An attorney for Tarek Mehanna sought yesterday to portray the Sudbury man’s religious beliefs as far more moderate than those of the terrorists he is charged with supporting, as Mehanna presented the first witness for his defense in his terrorism trial in US District Court in Boston.

Sejal Patel, one of Mehanna’s lawyers, used the testimony of a Yale associate professor of political science and religious studies to show that Mehanna had debated and disagreed with radical views on Islamic Web forums.

Mehanna, for instance, opposed the idea that American civilians could be targeted for retribution for the war in Iraq because of the decisions of their government or because they pay taxes, according to the testimony of the professor, Andrew F. March, who has written extensively on Al Qaeda and Islamic law related to warfare.

March was reading from material posted on a Web forum in 2005, in which Mehanna said that military facilities and personnel alone were justifiable targets.

“I saw this as an attempt to make an Islamic religious argument about who is targetable in a war,’’ March said.

“Does Al Qaeda’s position support the argument here?’’ Patel asked.

“No,’’ March said.

Later, Patel played a video showing Al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki endorsing the concepts that Mehanna had opposed. The American-born Yemeni cleric was killed earlier this year by the US military.

“I used to believe this,’’ Mehanna had written in one of his posts, “but after long reflection and thought . . . I have come to the belief that this is an incorrect concept.’’

He went on to point out that some of the biggest demonstrations protesting the war in Iraq occurred in the United States.

Mehanna, 29, an American citizen, faces life in prison if convicted of charges of conspiring to support Al Qaeda and to kill in a foreign country and of lying to investigators.

Prosecutors have called him a young radical who was committed to fight jihad against US soldiers. They say he traveled to Yemen in 2004 seeking terrorism training. He failed to find a camp, but returned, prosecutors said, with a new strategy to support the terror organization by promoting its ideology on the Internet.

During a cross-examination of March yesterday, Assistant US Attorney Aloke Chakravarty questioned whether the defense witness was cherry picking which documents to cite, overlooking other materials in which Mehanna glorifies beheadings and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“No religious postings here,’’ Chakravarty said of the nature of the discussions.

Defense attorneys have called Mehanna a budding scholar who was committed to the laws of his religion.

They say he traveled to Yemen seeking schools, to further his studies on the Arabic language and Islamic jurisprudence. They do not deny that he distributed controversial materials, but say he was expressing his views, a right protected by the First Amendment.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

via Defense depicts less-radical Mehanna – Metro – The Boston Globe.

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